My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. –James 1:9
At the beginning of each new year, it’s become popular for people to select a single word to focus on over the next 12 months. This year, the word I chose was listen. I’ve accepted this self-imposed quiet period of time for several months, now, especially in regard to the blog. I’ve worked on my first book and have completed three chapters. I want so much to share a single excerpt with you, but every time I search for one, I am compelled, yet again, to say very little and keep quiet.
Keep listening the Lord says. Keep listening.
So, I’ve read my Bible a lot. For starters, Hebrews 12, the faith chapter, from The Message, which my friend Chloe bought me. Here it is:
Discipline in a Long-Distance Race
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.
So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!
Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.
An Unshakable Kingdom
Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai—all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble—to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them and they begged him to stop. When they heard the words—“If an animal touches the Mountain, it’s as good as dead”—they were afraid to move. Even Moses was terrified.
No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.
So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.
I love this last part. God himself is Fire!
Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
After attending the Catholic church for many years with my husband Robert, he has happily agreed to attend a Protestant Church with me on Sunday evenings. I am so excited about this. God is in the midst of it all, and I will share more when the time is right. Last Sunday, I took Communion for the first time in eight years. It was the first time my younger two children have seen me take Communion. It was a moment worthy of a mention.
Like I said, during this quiet time, I’ve done a fair amount of reading. In the spirit of Brenda Ueland, I’ve also mulled things over and piddled around. One small discovery I’ve made that I want to pass along is the Nazarene Archives on Twitter. Most of the pictures shared on the account feature the Lost Generation, the generation born between 1883 and 1900. Like Generation X, they were a Nomad Generation. Naturally, I feel connected to them in a special way. To understand more about the Nomad Generation, I recommend Neil Howe’s book Generations.
Speaking of the Nazarenes…
I have also enjoyed going through a lot of my dad’s old books, many from his days at Pasadena Nazarene College in California. Many of the books were written by the founders and/or first ministers in the church. By the world’s standards, they are worth nothing, but they mean a lot to me. My dad wanted me to have his entire library. In the end, a lot of books are missing. Fortunately, he meticulously cataloged his entire collection by number. I found the list stuck in a book along with a few notes and ephemera. The best discovery I made, however, was his parents marriage certificate. He wrapped the document, brittle and aged, in aluminum foil and put it in a Will and Ariel Durant book. I hope to find and purchase all the books that were missing from his collection.
Christian Blogs by Women
Over the last year, I’ve read a lot of diverse Christian blogs by women. Many have also written books and I’ve enjoyed some of those, too. Some of my favorites are Ann Voskamp, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey and Tara Beth Leach.
Finally, every Sunday morning, I’ve started teaching my younger two children the old hymns. It was in singing these songs that I came to understand so much about Jesus and His love. My kids’ generation has really missed out on something very special not growing up with hymnals. Sadly, Generation X is the last generation to really be raised singing hymns. I have many favorites, and just today, Gary Chapman posted one of them as part of his Hymn A Week series. I’m glad that all three of my kids are learning to play the guitar and/or ukulele. Many blessings are in store for them.